As I get older, I have learned that there are things that God has given me the ability to do well. On the other hand, I have also learned to accept that He has not blessed me with a long list of other skills (often those that others excel at). This applies at work, where I’m dependent on our financial experts for anything related to accounting. It applies at home, where my family needs to call in a professional for roofing, siding, and certain other repairs, instead of depending on me to try (and likely fail). The same principle applies at church, where I will probably never be asked to play guitar or lead the singing (at least, not unless the church leaders are putting on an “amateur service”), and that’s probably best for everyone.
This wasn’t always the case, though. There are plenty of times that I’ve tried to be something that I’m not, and the results range from comical and inconvenient, to chaotic and dangerous. The belief that I can do anything that I put my mind to might sound like an inspiring cat poster, but there’s a difference between encouraging a child to invest in practice and education, in order to become good at a particular skill, versus my ability to replace competence with bravado, and unsuccessfully try to deliver results at something that I’m really not qualified for.
Take a look at what Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, in the verses below:
Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.
Philippians 3:8-9 NLT
Verse 8 is a great inspiration, here1. It helps us put into perspective the relatively puny value of our human accomplishments, as compared to the awesome privilege of directly communicating with the God of the universe, and being restored to His family (which we abandoned when we chose our own paths).
However, verse 9 is the reminder that perhaps I need even more, when I try to fix the biggest problem in my life: the giant wedge that I drove between God and myself when I chose to intentionally disobey Him and rebel against His loving instructions. There is no way for me to be good enough to live in the presence of the holy, perfect, and completely righteous God, through my own feeble attempts at following His instructions. I am just too weak, too selfish, too prideful, and too forgetful to live up to God’s level of perfection. And, God isn’t just “okay”, He is holy: entirely free from sin. As result, once I’ve fallen short of how I am expected to live (under a rule-based process of achieving righteousness), I can’t just “make up” for my failures. They are too great for me to repair, because any good deeds that I may do were already what was expected of me. Said another way, they cannot give me “extra credit” because they were part of the rules that I would have had to follow in the first place.
Like the times when I have unscrewed a plumbing fixture too far (yes, I’ve done this more than once!), and water is spewing everywhere, I’m clearly in over my head when I try to fix things in my life through my own willpower. In my life, this has been an ongoing struggle for me, at times thinking – incorrectly – that I must be “good enough” in order get to go to Heaven (which, by the way, is only a portion of the abundant life that Jesus wants for me).
Instead, like Paul, I need to set aside all of my attempts to meet God’s standards on my own (which is a laughable proposition for all of us fallen human beings to even attempt, since we are so weak and sinful). If that was all I had, there wouldn’t be much hope; however, God – while perfectly righteous and just – is also loving. Because of His love for us, He made another way for reconciliation that doesn’t depend on my failed attempts to follow all of the rules. As Jesus (God the Son) voluntarily paid for the consequences of my willful bad choices, I no longer need to win back God’s favor by keeping rules. Instead, I must simply have faith that Jesus’ gift is sufficient, and live as one who has been rescued from death, showing my gratitude as one who owes a life-debt to Him.
The process of accepting, trusting, and doing our best to live a rich life for Jesus (one of gratitude, fulfillment, and purpose) is one that can take a lifetime (and probably an eternity after that) to fully appreciate. However, if you have questions about what this looks like, the early followers of Jesus give us some great examples in Acts 2:36-47. In the same way, those who love and follow Jesus today can give you encouragement, suggestions, and positive role models .
Regardless of where you are in your path of getting to know God, please don’t try to spend your years on this earth trying to do the work yourself. Accept Jesus’ offer to exchange His perfect following of the law, in return for His payment of your sins. Live a life of freedom in Him! This is something that you and I cannot fix on our own.